Myth of Malham 2011
After our late start on the De Guingand bowl we were up bright and early for the trip from Lymington to Cowes. After a quick comfort stop for all in Shepherds, anticipating a bumpy ride, we displayed all five of our fire extinguishers to the check-in boat and headed out to the line.
After a fortifying round of jam sandwiches for the crew we finally got the sails up, made a quick trip over and back across the line and sooner than I thought we were off. I had not positioned us well for the start and as we tacked and headed across the line we were directly behind No Fear. They had a No2 to our No1 and although it was questionable which sail was best we were not able to point higher than them and eventually we were able to foot off and break through them, then started chasing down the boats in front. Persephone had made a great start and were leading the Sigma pack with only a couple of other IRC4 boats ahead, Rapscallion had started close to the Island and were coming fast with their No2, Marta who had started further over to the mainland were coming down quickly, soaking over us all.
Approaching Hurst we thought we were well positioned, we couldn’t match Marta’s speed, who had height to spare but we were hoping the shifts would put Persephone and Rapscallion needing to tack out to get through Hurst Narrows but as it was they made it comfortably. Knowing the stronger tide is to the North we all converged around Sconce and after some jostling up and down ended up in single file, close reaching down past the shambles, we had a J111 between us and the Sigmas ahead, so decided to bare away and head for the stronger tide in the end of the Needles channel.
Once out of the channel we were all able to follow the planned tactics, although it turned out to be more complicated than expected ours at the time were simple, to stay footed off on starboard for speed until the big veer we expected that night when we would tack back in towards Eddystone Lighthouse, Persephone seemed to be on a similar game plan and were footing off further while Marta and Rapscallion were closer in going for height. The next few hours were all about trim and speed, getting it right is a fine balance, made all the more apparent a few miles out from Anvil Point as we only slowly managed to over haul Festina Lente, in full cruising mode with a reef in, small headsail on their new inner forestay, wind vane on the helm, and the Meakins reclined in the cockpit with a cup of tea and a good book no doubt!
The wind turned out to be more to the west than the north west I had expected, but we were flying and managed to pull through the middle of the pack as we passed Portland Bill and with the expected shift felt the strength was to the left, which was where Persephone were, so once we felt we were far enough ahead tacked off to get out further, but crossing close ahead of them rather than carry on out to the left I stupidly couldn’t resist tacking to put a close cover on them. And so began a tacking battle more akin to inshore racing for an hour or so, it is not my usual game plan offshore, but apparently Persephone were enjoying the tussle as much we were. Either more efficient tacks by Persephone or better wind to the left were eating away at our lead over them and eventually sense prevailed and we separated to pay attention more to tacking on the shifts rather than each other and with a good right hand shift that we got first, we were able to stretch away further ahead.
Having tacked west on the expected header the wind continued to back and fairly soon rather than beating we were sailing a course to start point. This was our first mistake of the race, we should have stayed close hauled as the wind did veer again and we ended up not making it past Start Point and had to tack out loosing us ground. By sunrise we were approaching the lighthouse and had also lost track of the other Sigmas.
As we rounded and hoisted our light weight spinnaker we thought the race was now between us and Persephone, not really sure who was in front. As we started the long run back we passed Vitesse and Marta still coming the other way, but no Persephone, I did think I could see what looked like their heavy weight kite in the distance ahead, but optimism wouldn’t let me believe it was them! Then came a bit of a bombshell, approaching Start Point we caught a VHF conversation with Festina Lente complimenting Rapscallion, charging along under spinnaker, apparently the first Sigma to pass them going back, we had no idea where the conversation happened, but realised we had not seen Rapscallion since Portland Bill.
Now we just had the long run to the finish, with one decision to make, do we gybe into Lyme Bay past Start Point, for less tide but flatter seas and possibly less wind, or stand on down the channel with more tide against us initially but with better surfing waves and more wind and gybe later, straight at the finish. We opted for the latter which turned out to be our second mistake of the race. We stormed along under the lightweight for 3-4 hours but with the unexpected building winds and seas (we had not had an accurate forecast since the before the start) it was soon becoming marginal and we changed down to the heavy weight, just in time as within minutes the wind had increase by another 4-5 knots which would have made the light weight unmanageable and at risk. Fairly soon the heavy weight was too much to handle, there were shredded kites all around us which didn’t worry me too much, but after a couple of round ups and then several full broaches which took some time to recover it became clear we were in danger of doing damage to the sails, or worse the crew. Everyone was tired and with no one else in sight ahead or behind I decided it was best to get the kite down and white sail to the finish unless conditions eased. We hoisted the no2 to give balance to the main and in testimony to the conditions, all our peak speeds were made with just the main and no2!
As we were passing St Agnes our fears were confirmed when we heard Rapscallion report in 5 miles from the line, then compounded as Persephone reported in when we were still just over 9 miles out, there was an amusing conversation on the VHF as we approached the line, Ocean one had dragged their anchor from the start line and had to reset so were not taking reported or finishing times, and their predicament was obviously reported by a kindly soul to Solent Coastguard, who called them to see if they required assistance, the offer was politely shrugged off, they must be some tough guys who sit out at anchor in those conditions for so long, outstanding commitment, and really adds to the interest after the finish as the results are updated on the RORC website in close to real time, which was how we soon discovered that during that radio blackout Vitesse had crossed the line 16 minute ahead of us putting us 4th.
So a great race, amazingly quick, when I worked out the nav the day before starting I estimated we would finish in 36-38 hours which I did not believe would actually happen, in the end we took 36 hours and 36 minutes so very pleased, unfortunately not the 35 hours and 2 minutes managed by Rapscallion, stunning performance in what I believe is their first major offshore race, so congratulations to them, and to everyone else for finishing what turned out to be a far tougher and more exciting race than expected. I look forward to hearing everyone else’s stories and experiences.